96 Hours in Amman, Jordan
“The Jordanian economy isn’t great. Our neighbours are all at war, so there’s no trade anymore. This country once enjoyed one million tourists each year, but now we would be lucky to see a small percentage of that” - Amman Cab Driver
I’ll write this straight up. Jordan is fantastic. Amman is fantastic. And the people of this city are simply wonderful. And if this is your first visit to the Middle East, you’re in for a breathtaking treat.
Arriving in Amman, the country’s capital, it’s pretty clear straight away that this truly is the real Middle East, and we’re not in the gulf states any longer. Three hours by air from Dubai and Qatar, Jordan is an entirely different story. Whereas the former states are by-and-large commercial developments, Jordan has maintained its unique authenticity. And I’ll just say that word again - authentic - because that’s exactly what you’re going to get in the nation’s capital.
Amman itself is quite compact. While there is some urban sprawl outside the metropolitan areas, such developments have been limited by the country’s general shortage of water and electricity, which makes the expansion of infrastructure grossly problematic. But for travellers, this is good news, because it means you don’t need to spend a week to see the best of Amman. In fact, if you’re just coming through on the way to Petra, two days in the capital will probably be enough to see the main attractions, and just for a moment, live like a local Jordanian.
I stayed uptown in a quaint guesthouse that peculiarly for a metropolitan Middle East district, came complete with cats and rabbits and sheep and chickens. In fact, the whole thing was just as much hobby farm as it was guesthouse. But that works for me.
The first stop on my agenda was the ancient Citadel, believed to have been constructed by none other than Hercules, who lifted the stones with his bare hands back in 100-200AD. The Citadel is located at the very top of the city, which makes for some pretty neat photographic opportunities.
Wandering down the hill, it’s actually impossible to miss Amman’s number two attraction, the Roman Theatre. Another relic from the city’s ancient past, the amphitheatre seats nearly six thousand and is still used today for concerts and drama performances.
But this isn’t for the faint-of-heart. The steps are steep, and with no hand rails, climbing to the top isn’t for everyone. But when you do reach the top, the views over downtown Amman are superb.
And when you’ve finished playing tourist, there’s lots of other things to do.
The food, coffee and drinks are a good place to start. There’s great coffee uptown in Paris Square, which maintains an old-school European feel. And on every corner you’ll find a juice bar, which will give you your nutrient fix from as little as 1JD. If you’re feeling adventurous try the sugar-cane juice from one of the street vendors.
Most of the city can be tackled by foot. You will need a good pair of shoes because the footpaths are broken and uneven, and the city is incredibly mountainous, which means lots of staircases and climbing.
If you’re up for a walking challenge, wander to the religious district, where an enormous mosque and christian church sit side-by-side. One of the locals pointed out that this is one of very few cities in the world where multi-faith manages to co-exist in such a close proximity.
Keep an eye out for stray cats. They’re everywhere. In fact, there could well be more cats than people here.
But the people were the highlight. Warm, friendly and always up for a chat, Jordanians will try their best to communicate with you, although it will usually end up being in Arabic, with a bunch of strange hand signals. In the end, you’ll both laugh, smile, and continue on your way. That old-world charm is well and truly alive in Amman.
As my taxi driver mentioned, tourism to Jordan is at an all-time low, so if you look anything like me, and you clearly look like a tourist, you will be treated very well here.
The youth of Amman are particularly entertaining. With all the energy in the world, they run around the streets seemingly unmonitored, waving toy guns at everyone. As soon as they realise you’re a foreigner, they will chase you down and insist you take photographs with them. It can be a little intense at first, but trust me - these kids are harmless.
Amman is also strangely artistic and creative, which isn’t always something you would associate with a Middle Eastern city. There’s an eccentric graffiti scene, and dotted around the capital you’ll find colourful signage, tags and cartoons drawn on everything, from half-built housing estates to rubbish bins.
But the big question on everyone’s lips, is that you’re probably wondering if Amman is safe. It is so safe! In fact, Amman represents one of the safest cities I’ve ever been to. The crime rate is basically non-existent, and tourists are welcomed with open arms. If you’re a westerner, you will get some strange looks, but none of them are malicious. More often than not, people are just interested, and a little impressed, that you’ve taken the time to visit their beloved country.
Despite the tough times going on around them, the Jordanians maintain incredible optimism, and the capital represents one of the most interesting stopovers between Europe and Asia Pacific.
Factor Amman into your next trip and you won’t regret it.